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Gifted Math Meet lures 272 calculating students

Young math whizzes show their knowledge - and learn to be gracious losers.

By DENIS THERIAULT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Not every kid has the tongue-wagging, high-flying dream of being like Mike. Some kids would rather be like, well, Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist.

On April 13 and 14, 272 fourth- and fifth-graders from across Pinellas County traded their basketballs for pencils and matched mathematical wits in the county's annual Gifted Math Meet, a contest started 11 years ago to boost flagging math scores and teach problem-solving skills.

Kids competed in teams of four as well as on their own to see which four teams and which four individuals in each grade would be taking home a trophy.

Often frenzied and intense, the competition provides an opportunity for these pupils to show off talents that often are overlooked, their teachers say.

"It's an ability to show their math knowledge around peers at their same level. Sometimes they're the only gifted kids at their school," said Barbe O'Steen, a teacher at Area III Gifted Center and one of the event's coordinators.

The pendulum also swings the other way. For the same kids, O'Steen said, the competition can help them face situations where they're not always on top.

"It's tough for a lot of these kids to accept not being No. 1," she said. "They're learning to be gracious losers. And that's okay."

When answering the timed questions, the kids aren't allowed to use calculators -- just pencil, paper and their fingers and toes.

In team play, kids were given eight questions to answer with four minutes for each. More points were awarded the faster the question was answered. In individual play, kids were first given 30 minutes to solve 20 questions and then six minutes to solve two more. Unlike in the team round, points were taken away for wrong answers.

Pinellas County secondary-education teachers come up with the questions, a difficult mix of word problems and patterns that forced the kids to go beyond what they've learned in class and exercise their problem-solving skills.

"A lot of these are strategies you'll need for every subject," O'Steen said. "We want to make these kids lifelong problem-solvers."

THE WINNERS SOUTH COUNTY

Fourth grade (team)

1st: Maximo Elementary
2nd: Tyrone Elementary
3rd: Azalea Elementary
4th: Perkins Elementary

Fourth grade (individual)


1st: Cody Coppola, Azalea Elementar
2nd: Stephen Winslow, Azalea Elementary
3rd: Andrew Matson, Maximo Elementary
4th: Paul Krause, Shore Acres Elementary

Fifth grade (team)

1st: Perkins Elementary
2nd: Bay Point Elementary
3rd: Maximo Elementary
4th:Paul Krause, Shore Acres Elementary

5th Grade (Team)


1st: Perkins Elementary
2nd: Bay Point Elementary
3rd: Maximo Elementary
4th: Area III Gifted Center

Fifth grade (individual)


1st: Crystal Reardon, Perkins Elementary
2nd: Kristin Grotecloss, Area III Gifted Center
3rd: Nicole Lauber, Tyrone Elementary
4th: Drew Towey, Maximo Elementary

WHAT THEY ANSWERED:

QUESTION: A man has three daughters. Find their ages if--1. The sum of their ages is 29. 2.All their ages are odd and prime. 3. All their ages are different.

ANSWER: There are two solutions -- 3, 5 and 11 years old or 1, 5 and 13 years old.

METHOD: Most important, each number has to be prime. This means it can't be divided evenly by any number besides itself and 1. A sensible list of odd numbers leaves you with 1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 and 17. From that list, pick three different numbers that add to 19.

QUESTION: A rectangular patch of grass is surrounded by a 4-foot-wide sidewalk. If the outer dimensions of the sidewalk are 60 by 40 feet, what is the area of the grass?

ANSWER: 1,664 square feet

METHOD: The sidewalk is 4 feet wide and goes all the way around the grass. Thus, to get the dimensions of the grass, you'd want to subtract 4 feet from the top, bottom, left and right sides of the entire rectangle. That leaves you with a 52-by-32 rectangle. Multiply the two numbers together for the area.

QUESTION: A train's speed is 60 miles per hour. It enters a tunnel that is 1 mile long. How much time will it take for the train to completely clear the tunnel if the train's length is half a mile?

ANSWER: 90 seconds

METHOD: At 60 mph, the train travels 1 mile every 60 seconds. So, even though the train's engine will clear the 1-mile tunnel in 60 seconds, it will take another 30 seconds for the rest of the half-mile-long train to clear the tunnel.

Source: Area III Gifted Center

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